The memorial garden at American Legion Post 233 in Palm Valley was a busy place Wednesday, Nov. 10, when the students from BridgeHaven Academy and Communication Clinic visited to beautify it.
The garden, originally dedicated on Aug. 9, 2012, had gotten somewhat unkempt and lost some of its initial beauty.
“It was supposed to be a space for veterans to be able to come out here, have a little bit of quiet time and reflect,” said post Commander Caroline Merillat. “As stuff gets a little overgrown, it doesn’t feel very peaceful.”
But the students have transformed the garden, first visiting in October to clean it up and then arriving the day before Veterans Day to perform some maintenance.
“We want this to be a place for veterans to come and have that moment to remember — remember those that have passed, remember those that have fallen — and to be a place of peace, comfort and serenity,” said Lynn Yeager, BridgeHaven Academy executive director.
The private, not-for-profit school is for students with autism. It arose out of a need to meet the academic needs of Yeager’s son and officially opened its doors in January 2017. Today, it has eight students, who are taught in grade-level classes. The school also works with families during its communication clinics to educate them on different methods of communicating with a child with autism.
The students, many of them nonverbal, enjoy meeting the veterans and learning about their lives and the programs the American Legion offers.
When they saw that the garden could benefit from their contribution, they selected it as a service project.
“Our students indicated that they wanted to be seen as individuals and not be defined by their autism,” said Yeager. “They indicated that they wanted to be involved in service projects and giving back to the community.”
The partnership between the American Legion post and BridgeHaven Academy has been mutually beneficial.
“As a lot of people know, the American Legion is about veterans, but what they don’t know is that we’re also about children, youth and community,” said Merillat.